There is so much written on the internet in the past couple of weeks about Captain America: Civil War there is a hope this review says something marginally different. A sequel to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and goodness knows what other properties that have come out of the house of Marvel since 2008, this films dons a lot of hats to many in the audience, let alone being the beginning of Black Panther and the newly rebooted Spider-Man: Homecoming. That’s a lot of story to get through to get to this thirteenth instalment of this mega franchise is a culmination of themes and character arcs that have grown through the films, seeking to change characters destinies, and explore the limits of accountability and recrimination. While this film does struggles with the weight of trying being everything to everyone (therefore leaving nothing for itself), it is a blockbuster ride that will definitely entertain with some great action and solid acting… in spite of it being way too long, only getting to grips with itself, both story-wise and film-wise, when it gets to the second half.
After the disappointing Age of Ultron, we come back to the Avengers in the face of the latest disaster involving the death of aid workers. In reaction to this and Ultron, the U.N. have developed a document called Sokovia Accords, which establishes an UN panel to oversee the conduct of the Avengers Initiative, which has been self-governing with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) leading the charge since the destruction of intelligence agency S.H.I.E.L.D. in Winter Soldier. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), knowing the cost of his actions in previous Iron Man films and Ultron, comes to support the accords as a means to clear his conscience, whilst Rodgers sees this as bureaucracy that will cost lives, and possibly make them puppets for government regimes. Meanwhile, James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) has returned on the international stage, with unclear intentions, and with personal and literal explosions.
It is a good film, but when you leave it, you think of it as ‘eh, that was okay’ or ‘eh, that was good’. To illicit a strong reaction whether negative or positive is difficult as the film is a solid piece of film-making by the Russos, good entertainment. On the other hand, it feels like a sense of fatigue has taken over for a large part of the film, not seeking to surprise or shock, resting in a complacency to tick genre boxes. It’s not difficult to see that they had to be ticked off to ensure most of the audience gets their bang from their buck, seeing as the film had to juggle so many pieces that it is lucky they didn’t drop the ball that much (Paul Bettany’s and Elizabeth Olsen’s arc is quite honestly dreadful), but made the film functional and move smoothly without too much deep questioning. The introduction to Prince T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) was engaging and exciting to witness (in spite of him being over-powered and bland as he went along), whilst the new Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is fantastic and refreshing to see in this younger iteration, his purpose of the film comes off as clumsy, he makes a worthwhile impression. However, with all these characters vying for attention, it is hard to find enjoyment for some deeply rooted characterisation, but depending on crumbs.
When the film, after the rather spectacular group fight between the Iron Man and Captain America factions (Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd, comes out the best and most human hero on screen), pairs down its exorbitant cast to the plot’s core characters, the film starts to become very interesting, that it becomes more emotive and personable with the best acting by Downey Jr and Evans in their roles since they’d been cast in them. And makes you wish that this had been the film all along, tying stakes to very personal issues. If the film had been from the airport onwards, this would be one of the best comic book films rather than just a distinctly average one, as most of this film (and any iteration of The Avengers films), it comes across as pleasant fan service, being a collection of moments between the characters than about their characters. never truly challenging when their main goal is to bring the collective dreams of geeks to the big screen.
The film makes it hard to disagree that Marvel’s films are becoming like a television series, both in writing and in production, but then you realise that Marvel is doing what they do best, making comics. Something changes, but nothing changes, we are expected to infer to previous films, but also to deduce from the film itself, but nothing is ever whole or of itself. It’s a comic book issue film, with great snippets and cool touches, but really this film should be a graphic novel, beginning, middle and end. The focus in story and resolution in many Phase 2 films such as Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Ant-Man seems to be missing, and so is any distinctive visualisation, which makes sense when dealing with so many characters with contrasting tonality depressingly. Most of the action sequences are over-edited at the beginning, that it is a relief to find the main set-piece has personality, clear narrative flow and has great character dynamism, nearly overcoming the fact it at times looked pale and clinical whilst avoiding a Man of Steel-style blow-out. It has the Marvel nice blend of action, comedy and drama, but then there is a slight disappointment that they did not confront the meaning of the Accords head-on with both sides of the debate in action, or in other words, take a risk to anger/surprise your audience once in awhile Marvel.
It is great to watch a film that decides to engage in a prescient debate, and such a debate is not a binary white hat vs black hat, but that Stark and Rogers reside in the grey, both wrong and right. Much of this debate is about the sovereignty of borders in the face of threats that hold no allegiance, the lengths we should go to safeguard the populace from danger, and even the theoretical idea that with a great good, a great evil has to be there to be a ballast. It is a shame that for such an entertaining film, it lacks a finality in finding a conclusion (or fuelling #TeamCap and #TeamIronMan to continue the next couple of years), or at least go deeper between knife swings and light blasts, and consequently robs the debate of any sense of conclusion… except a litany of sequels that will undoubtedly continue the cycle. Long live Marvel?
It was alright I guess. Ant-Man was the best thing in it. I’m stoked for Ant-Man and the Wasp.
RATING: THREE STARS